Internet Archive Settlement Protects Market for Existing eBooks

The Writers' Union of Canada


The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is pleased overall with the negotiated consent judgment terms announced this week between US publishers and San Francisco’s Internet Archive (IA), concerning the IA’s ongoing practice of scanning physical books and making those scans available online. This judgment, while still subject to appeal if IA chooses to continue in the courts, should provide robust protection for the ebook marketplace.

We remain concerned that one requirement in the judgment seems to ignore the foundations of copyright law, and may threaten the market for future, independently produced ebooks from authors’ back catalogues.

As part of the negotiated judgment, the US District Court in the Southern District of New York has imposed a permanent injunction on what are now considered illegal ebooks, but which are most often poorly scanned PDF copies, created without permission. Such copies must now be removed permanently from public availability. This is an outcome author groups have long sought, and which might have been avoided had IA requested permission for their project from the owners of the works they used. To be clear, this settlement does not in any way reduce the availability of legal ebooks from legitimate libraries.

But the injunction includes what we view as an unnecessary limitation, antithetical to the core purpose of copyright law, which is to reserve rights over creative work for those who have created them. The imposed injunction only covers books that already have an ebook currently available. This means, theoretically, IA could continue making their PDF copies for books that remain under copyright protection but currently do not have an ebook version.

TWUC shares the view of our US colleagues at the Authors Guild that this limitation defies copyright law, by removing significant control from authors over when and how copies of our work are made widely available. We recognize this contentious term of the injunction does not create a new precedent in copyright law; but we’ve learned from long, hard experience that clarity is crucial for a respectful and working copyright marketplace. Ill-defined exceptions to Canadian copyright have resulted in costly litigation and hundreds of millions of lost revenues for Canadian writers and publishers.

“This ruling is a mixed blessing,” noted author Danny Ramadan, Chair of TWUC. “While it provides a solution to the immediate problem created by the Internet Archive, it is not as strong an endorsement of authors’ rights as we require in the current climate. The pressure on authors to provide work for free is relentless. We need courts and lawmakers to draw much brighter lines of protection.”

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The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is the national organization of professionally published writers. TWUC was founded in 1973 to work with governments, publishers, booksellers, and readers to improve the conditions of Canadian writers. Now over 2,600 members strong, TWUC advocates on behalf of writers’ collective interests, and delivers value to members through advocacy, community, and information. TWUC believes in a thriving, diverse Canadian culture that values and supports writers.

For additional information: review TWUC's advocacy work surrounding Piracy.

DATE: August 18, 2023